Capturing the Imagination of Future Social Entrepreneurs: A Robust, University-Based, Anchor Institution-led Development Model

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This article is an abbreviated version of a presentation given by Sherman Kreiner, Managing Director of the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation (UWCRC). The presentation took place in November 2013, as part of a panel discussion hosted by UWCRC.

Community based enterprise development is extremely difficult. Business developers and community based entrepreneurs are often not able to meet the most basic small business challenges - money, markets, and management. When the development of cooperatives is the goal, the challenge is even more daunting as design, governance and education issues are overlaid on the small business start-up.

An idea which has increasing resonance and potential to address these challenges is anchor institution led development. This model is built on the assumption that anchor institutions (universities, hospitals) can provide many of the solutions to lessen enterprise development risk, including leadership, investment capital and protected markets. We at the University have also attempted to develop an anchor institution led development model in which:

  • the development vision is part of the institutional mission;
  • the defining narrative of the development process resonates broadly across the University;
  • focused leadership is provided by the President;
  • specialized infrastructure is developed which brings the required development competencies; a self-sustaining financial plan assures adequate investment capital for specific development initiatives being undertaken; and
  • a new generation of social entrepreneurs is being trained in a business school in which social enterprise and cooperatives are core, not “bolt-ons”

The re-imagining of the University of Winnipeg’s development vision began nine years ago with two initiatives, which were not immediately related. President Axworthy, committed the University to a plan for environmental sustainability.  The University Board of Regents also authorized the creation of The University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation to be mission focused on sustainable development. This is a unique development model among Canadian universities. UWCRC is separately incorporated and has charitable status. Half of its 16 member Board is drawn from the University, including the President, who serves as chair. The balance are from the community.

In framing its work, UWCRC began the process of embracing a four pillared concept of sustainability – not just environmental sustainability, but social, cultural, and economic sustainability as well. Among these, the most challenging pillar to define is economic sustainability. Economic sustainability is shared wealth creation. This can be accomplished through employee ownership, cooperatives, or through a Fair Trade concept which establishes a floor price for growers. In the absence of economic sustainability, the wealth gap continues to grow, creating economic challenges in its own right and making achievement of the other sustainability pillars more difficult.

The four pillared sustainability concept has become the template for the University’s capital development agenda. All new buildings are designed to achieve LEED Silver status. McFeetors Hall combines dorms with affordable apartments and reserves half of them for community residents. The UWSA Day Care serves children from the University and the neighbourhood. The Buhler Centre which houses Business and Economics and Continuing Education, is a joint venture with the Plug In Art Institute. The Richardson College includes a multidisciplinary centre for sustainability as well as teaching and research labs. The UNITED Health and RecPlex will guarantee significant community access through a community charter. Our buildings have also won City of Winnipeg Accessibility Awards.

UWCRC is presently working with North End community organizations to re-purpose the Merchants Hotel. The plan is to redevelop the hotel for residential, community and academic uses, including the University’s Urban and Inner City Studies program. UWCRC also pursues two other major areas of activity. It supports business development for First Nations in association with the University’s Master’s in Development Practice program. UWCRC also manages non-academic business units. UWCRC partnered with SEED Winnipeg to create our campus food ser vice, Diversity Foods.  The University has enhanced support for cooperatives by creating a Chair in Co-operative Enterprises – to our knowledge the first such chair in a business school in North America.

It is increasingly clear that the development agenda has had a transformative impact in building a sustainable campus community and facilitating the embrace of a broad sustainability agenda. The University model contains within its vision many of the necessary components of infrastructure and narrative for a successful anchor institution based development model, with movement generating potential. Now almost ten years into its work, it has seen leading edge successes in sustainable development and some modest successes in be coming a centre for cooperative development. Is this model the answer to the movement question? Alone, I doubt it. Going to scale requires social entrepreneurs driving the development of sectoral initiatives. What this model offers, especially in a University, is a setting in which social entrepreneurship can ripen from an exciting idea to a life mission. Done well, the University of Winnipeg model creates a learning laboratory which provides to a young person with a commitment to a sustainable planet.


All images used in this article belong to the University of Winnipeg.

To learn more about Anchor Institution-led Development Model, follow the link below to a complete article written by Sherman Kreiner on the subject.

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